'I respect my predecessor; can't comment on his actions'

The Inquirer

No wonder that the new HRD Minister Kapil Sibal’s plans and priorities for the next 100 days have grabbed headlines and evoked fresh hopes as well as cynicism. Sibal speaks to Shruba Mukherjee of Deccan Herald on his aim at “bringing about a revolution” in the field of education with three mantras of access, equity and excellence. Excerpts:

Recently CBI arrested a top official of AICTE and registered a case against another one on graft charges. But this is only a tip of the iceberg. How are you planning to curb malpractices in the sector aimed at promoting human excellence?

CBI arrested member secretary of AICTE K Narayan Rao and also registered a separate case against chairman R A Yadav on charges of corruption. There were specific allegations and CBI took action on the basis of those complaints after conducting enquiries. Rao was arrested along with a middleman for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 5 lakh for giving recognition to a technical college in Andhra Pradesh. Yadav, along with his two associates, had allegedly asked for a hefty bribe from a Faridabad engineering college for hiking their fees violating norms. It is the responsibility of the CBI and not of the HRD ministry to investigate allegations on the basis of facts and bring it to the notice of the government. We do not want to hound anybody, but if complaints are proved to be true, then certainly we will take action.

A very strong nexus exists between a section of the politicians, bureaucrats and mafias in the education sector, especially in higher education. How are you planning to deal with it?

If we get specific complaints we can enquire and take action. But we cannot do anything on the basis of sheer speculation. Media is the watchdog for the society and if anything exists like this, they should bring it to our notice and we will definitely act on that complaint. My ministry is also working on a Bill to curb malpractices in educational institutions and that has been sent for inter-ministerial consultations.

Have you faced any pressure from any lobby of the private educational institutions?

Everybody knows that I do not succumb to pressure. It will be my ministry’s effort to bring transparency into the educational system. We have ordered a review of deemed universities and we are likely to get the report within three months. We will take action according to the recommendations of that report.

You have turned down the recommendation of your predecessor Arjun Singh of appointing an IPS officer as the CBSE chairperson. The appointment of vice chancellors in 15 new Central universities across the country during Singh’s tenure also evoked controversies as these were reportedly done violating all norms. Are you planning to review those appointments as well?

Nothing can be done in this regard because the appointments have already been made and they have taken charge of their new posts. Once appointed, the VCs enjoy a certain kind of statutory protection and unless and until they do something illegal, they can not be removed. In the the CBSC chairman’s case, however, the appointment had not been finalised and it was only at the recommendation stage.

There are so many reports of appointments of ‘personal favourites’ to top
educational posts during your predecessor’s regime. Would you like to comment on that?

I respect my predecessor. I do not think it is appropriate to comment on this. We function as an institution and continuity should be there in that institutional functioning. As long as that continuity is maintained, I would not complain.

How much of your 100-day agenda has been achieved?

Quite a bit. The Right to Education Bill has already been approved by the Rajya Sabha and within a few days it will be taken up by the Lok Sabha. Hopefully, the Bill will be passed in the ongoing Parliament session. The Foreign Universities Bill is also ready. My ministry is also working out the modalities of bringing in an overarching independent body to look into different aspects of higher education.

Our focus on access, equity and excellence would be taken care of by a very important provision of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2009, as it provides that an unaided school, not receiving any kind of aid or grants to meet its expenses from the appropriate government or the local authority, should admit in class I, to the extent of at least 25 per cent of the strength of that class, children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in the neighbourhood and provide them free and compulsory elementary education. The Bill further makes provisions regarding reimbursement of expenditure so incurred by such schools to the extent of the per child expenditure incurred by the state, or the actual amount charged from the child, whichever is less, subject to certain conditions.

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